The Red Bull X-Alps title has been decided, and in the end, it didn’t have to go far. For the fourth straight year, Christian “Chrigel” Maurer won this prestigious event – although this time he really had to work for it. It certainly had the usual highs (literally) and lows. The first day had the athletes soaring 3800 m (12,467 ft) into the sunny skies. That must have been awesome to see! As usual in this race, however, weather proved a major factor. The second day saw the flyers grounded by rain and wind. In the days following, winds as high as 50 kmh (31 mph) blew pilots off course and forced unplanned landings.
Michael Witschi (Switzerland) landed in a lake, adding swimming to the already grueling 1038 miles of flying and walking. He was able to continue the race with the help of other flyers such as Aaron Durogati (Italy). Another landing put Toma Coconea (Romania) out of the race with a broken arm and other minor injuries. Guschlbauer added more drama to an exciting finish by tangling his glider in the bushes and having to sprint the rest of the way to make it for the bronze.
Maurer clocked in at 8 days, 4 hours, and 37 minutes – and ended up a full 100 km ahead of his nearest competition. The final distance is a bit misleading, however, as Paul Guschlbauer and Sebastien Huber were hot on his trail for most of the race.
In the end, however, Maurer’s edge in paragliding made the difference. After Annecy, he was virtually uncatchable, solidifying Switzerland’s strangehold on both the event and the sport.
In a bit of a surprise, second place went to Huber – a rookie. The German took the Mazda rookie award, and his finish ensured that Advance would have the top two pilots in the race.
Guschlbauer ended up in third – a finish he is undoubtedly grateful for, as his race seemed to be in doubt towards the end. Despite being neck-and-neck with Maurer and Huber for much of the race, he faded in the last day, and even slipped as low as sixth. In the end, though, he used his Led Lenser Night Pass to reclaim his spot in the top three.
Four U.S. athletes took part in the race: Honza Rejmanek, Gavin McClurg, Dave Turner and Dawn Westrum. One of the two women in the field of 32 pilots, Westrum made it as far as the Matterhorn before she was eliminated. Co-competitors all gave her credit for her abilities and effort. A former soldier, Westrum has only been flying six years. After getting more experience, she hopes to compete again and eyes being the first woman to win this race. Go Dawn!
With the race complete, the competitors will have time to contemplate the tactics required to best Chrigel during the off season. For now, though, one thing is clear: Chrigel Maurer is still the best competitive paraglider/endurance racer in the world.
There’s always next year for Huber, Guschlbauer, and the rest, but 2015 is all about Chrigel.